"The magic in you"
This painting is of a photo of an incredibly talented friend of mine, Kara Davis, who is a choreographer and dancer in San Francisco. The energy, spontaneity, and passion in the photo captures her beautifully, and I have been planning on painting it, just letting it "simmer" for quite some time now.
When I sit with an image for awhile, it is much easier for me to get to the essence of what I want to say through my painting. Sometimes I'm not exactly sure what it is that draws me to paint an image, it takes time before I fully understand, and other times I get excited about painting something, only to have my interest fade to nothing after awhile.
But this one resonated and wouldn't let me go. After Covid hit, I still wanted to paint it but wondered how it would translate during these times when everyone is struggling. The answer came to me as I listened to the news one day and thought of all the other people listening too, getting depressed, unable to get away from the constant stream of bad news. I began to think about how our best remedy for combating the ugliness of our world is to look inward to find that magic place that resides in every one of us. The little space in our soul of childlike freedom, play and passion that the world tries it's best to drown out.
Finding that place, that magic, or rediscovering it, is just a process like anything else. Just spending time being quiet and curious about what makes you happy can help you find what you truly love and once it emerges, it enables us to look outside of our circumstances and find passion, resilience and energy. Better equipping us mentally, emotionally and spiritually to deal with whatever the world throws our way.
So here is my challenge to you today. Find something that makes you feel like a kid again. Do something that stirs the playfulness and effortless energy you may have forgotten about. It's not just for you, it's for all of us- our world needs renewal, hope, passion and a little bit of your magic right now!
*** If you are up for the challenge, post a photo of something that encapsulates the magic for you on the comments below or on my facebook page. I will do a drawing of all the people who send photos for a free mini painting next month. ***
I am clearing out and rearranging my studio this week, so I have not been painting. But I did uncover this little gem that holds tremendous meaning for me, even 36 years after I painted it.
I was in 8th grade, Mr. John's art class, and we were supposed to paint a watercolor landscape. I painted the hill, sky and fields with trees, but wasn't happy with it and was ready to start something new. I took it up to his desk, where he was, as usual, working on a watercolor of his own.
He called me by his nickname for me, "Grinnin", and told me to look for what I saw in my landscape. I said I wanted a little farmhouse but messed up the shape of the building. He proceeded to paint a small rectangular bar of red and a couple of dark brown squares for windows. I'll never forget how that red roof brought the entire thing to life. Suddenly, out of watery shapes, a painting emerged. It was there all the time, it just took his guidance for me to see it. Like magic, something new out of what I had essentially given up on.
Fast forward to the past month when I realized my painting space was converging on me like I was in the center of some very creative, unfocused, bird's nest. Which is actually kind of snug and sheltered feeling to me, so I can let it go for longer than I should. Fortunately, fate intervened and after watching an episode of "Hoarders" last week, I decided it was probably time to act, before the crew and cameras showed up.
My studio has been a holding place for my indecision. Last year I moved my parents out of their home into assisted living and in doing so, absorbed a lot of their "stuff". How do you go through a house full of sentimental things and make definitive decisions? If you're like me, you do it overwhelmed and poorly, then give your brother a carful of stuff he could probably live without.
Holding on to material remnants of a life that don't serve anyone any longer simply clouds one's vision and stagnates creativity. To truly honor my parents, I am discovering, I have to let go of the material and move forward in order to carry their true gift- a lifetime of love, beauty, and experience- with me into the future. .
So I started the difficult process of cleaning this week and during a break I went for a walk, clearing my head and talking to God. And the words -I never know chapter and verse, but I usually know a sentence or two- "See, I am doing a new thing" kept coming to my mind. I went home and looked it up and the verse is "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43:19.
I am so thankful that God does a new thing in all of our lives, every day, throughout the world, even at the cellular level. He does a new thing so that we can have hope, healing and courage as we continue opening ourselves to the possibility of a new day. It was exactly what I needed at precisely the right time.
When I came across my old painting , I thought about how Mr. John put a little magic into my painting and my life that day, allowing me to see previously hidden possibilities and find joy and life in something I had deemed unworthy. His ability to see potential in a dorky middle school kid's painting in 1984, has been carried into the the year 2020. Who can know the potential of seeing a situation, a person, or a problem you had given up on from a new perspective? The possibilities of a tweak in thinking have the ability to change our future.
I am remembering Mr. John's lesson and Isaiah 43:19 as I let go of the "stuff" that stagnates new possibility, and renew my studio space to give new life to my creative journey. As well as a way to live each day , looking for the potential for beauty, integrity and possibility in places, spaces, and relationships we have given up on.
So, in Mr. John's words, today; "What do you see"?
We are living in a time of great paradox- The more we fight, the less effective we become. Arguing a point successfully, making a pointed comment, or even launching an insult at someone you feel truly deserves it feels self gratifying at first, even empowering. Until, it doesn't. Until the raging leads to more turmoil both internally and externally and then, seemingly, falls flat. The collateral damage is lost friends, bad feelings between family members, depression, anxiety, hopelessness.
Unfortunately, once rage and chaos are freed, they take on a life of their own. Newton's first law of intertia states that an object in motion will stay in motion, traveling in a straight line, forever, until something pushes or pulls on it.
Like the hurtful, angry words we put out into the world, inertia is virtually unstoppable until another force is applied. That force is love, and it is the only force in this world that can change the course of hatred, chaos and hurt. Is that naive? Simplistic? Ineffective? Weak? The world says so.
Jesus told us that his new command was that we love one another as he loves us. With grace, with forgiveness, with mercy. Taking on other's hurts as our own. For as long as it takes. And the bigger the hurt, the longer the healing will take.
The Hebrew word Chasidut is a rabbinic term that means to walk intimately with God. Our devotion to God is demonstrated and authenticated by our love for others. Chasidut is the way we love and serve those around us..
Similar to a tiny seed planted in each of us, as we tend to love, it grows into a mighty oak that is impermeable to the storms that rage around us. We are living through chaotic times. But we were born for these times. Let's commit to walking with our brothers and sisters every day, intimately and with love , the only true force in nature that can fundamentally and powerfully change our world.
You are stronger than you know. You have more power than you realize. Quiet power within that comes from God your father.
You don't comprehend this power because the world you live in magnifies all of your deepest fears. The vision of who you are truly meant to be is buried under humiliation, unworthiness, and shame, until you can't find your soul anymore. You don't recognize your life or who you've become.
You, child of God, were never meant to bear these things. They have taken over and close you down as you reach for the quickest way to numb out.
It becomes your survival, it becomes more essential that anything else in your life because it is the only friend you have that doesn't judge you and gives your screaming head the temporary rest it craves.
That is what the darkness tells you. The darkness makes it seem as if it is the only truth that exists, and it is a lie. A lie that will be exposed when you lay it all down at the feet of the ancient and living I AM who redeems all things and can liberate you from the hell you live in, Jesus Christ. Lay it down. Without holding onto anything, not even a scrap of the old. Ask for the forgiveness that will free your mind from the hell addiction has created in your life. He will grant it. It is not a simple or easy act, but it is no more complicated than that for those who genuinely seek it with their whole heart.
Wait on His light and freedom, something you have not felt since you were a child, running and playing in the sun, full of life. Wait and pray to feel your God-given power and see the first light illuminate your path from the shadows. Believe and know it will lead you to change the world for the better as you become fully released, empowered and loved. The path is yours to take, but you are the only one who can uncover it.
Lord, I pray for anyone reading this, struggling with addiction, that you will bless them abundantly, let them feel your love and give them strength and hope for a new life. Uncover the life you have been waiting on them to find. Amen.
“The Greeks believed that time had secret structure. There was the moment of Epiphany when time suddenly opened and something was revealed in luminous clarity. There was the moment of krisis when time got entangled and directions became confused and contradictory. There was also the moment of kairos; this was the propitious moment. Time opened up in kindness and promise. All the energies cohered to offer a fecund occasion of initiative, creativity, and promise. Part of the art of living wisely is to learn to recognize and attend to such profound openings in one’s life.”
― John O'Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Invocations and Blessings
I have been taking a little break from social media, which is tricky, because I depend on social media to promote and sell my work. But the last few weeks, instead of helping my art, social media was becoming a deterrent to my creativity.
So I gave myself the break I needed, started a morning yoga and prayer practice to quiet my body and soul.
Doing yoga every day at 49 is an exercise in humbleness, acceptance and patience. As I try new positions that would have been easy a few years ago, I find that although my mind can "feel" what it is supposed to do, my body no longer remembers.
Part of the learning has been allowing my body the space and time it needs to
unite with what my brain knows it is able to do.
The paradox is that as I breathe through my practice, and let go of the frustration with my body's limits, my body gives space and calm back. Not being pushed and cornered, itis able to relax it's limits, let go, and create more room for movement and strength. It is the same with prayer. As I come into God's presence, reading his word and listening, my jumbled thoughts and anxieties begin to melt, as he gives me a peace in the midst of chaos, and space and light to find my path once more.
As we now live in a world where we relentlessly crowd, frustrate and corner each other every day online, Which never has the intended effect because it does not allow for the space we need to listen, learn and release our defenses. Our automatice responses to memes, and others inflammatory words causes at it's core- fear-, which in turn leads to tightening up, closing down and choosing a "side" to align with and feel safe again.
During the last weeks, our conversations have become excluding and anger driven because we feel as if we are under attack. Which only serves to stop us from growing, stretching, and becoming who we know we can be individually and collectively.
My hope and prayer for all of us is that we can become fearless in our love for one another, blessing the space between us and inside of us and remembering God's love for all. The One who gave us a rainbow of colors in the sky and in our skin, also gave us the ability to choose the light or darkness within each of us.
Here's to us all displaying our light, blessing one another and filling up the world with it. It has never been more important.
Love and gratitude- Gretchen
"Still I'll rise"
This painting was born of so many scattered, random, pent up emotions after the quarantine of 2020. My parents are elderly, and like everyone, I have friends and family who are vulnerable to the virus.
I believe in times like these we are meant to draw closer to God, to find new understanding in the world around us. For me, this has meant a lot of prayer, but not only the prayer where I ask for protection for my family and friends and guidance, but the kind where I try to also listen. This is harder than it would seem.
I have found walking helps with this kind of prayer, and one day as I was out taking photos of sycamore trees for reference photos, I came across an old convent with a labyrinth on the grounds. It was a quiet spring morning and no one was there, so I decided to see what it was about. The directions said to enter after taking a deep breath, ring the chimes, and follow the path, as you are walking, you can pray. When you get to the center there is a tree where you can kneel and pray. On the way out, you simply quiet yourself and try to hear what God is saying to you. It is a wonderful, cleansing, beautiful way to become quiet enough to pray and be present.
What does this all have to do with my portrait painting? I had been unable to focus my haywire energy and anxieties enough to paint. After that morning at the labrynth, I came home and painted her. And I had no idea what I was doing or if it would turn out to be a study for my trash pile, but soon realized I was painting my response to the strange chaos of quarantine- all the focus was there and it was coming through the brush.
And what came through was clear rebellion and fearlessness. The underlying knowledge that fear, worry, distraction and lack of belief have no place in my life as a child of God. That I can be- when I put my trust in him- free of the constant background noise of the media, free of the constant stress and worries about loved ones. I can regain my focus and have confidence in God, when I give it to him. This is in his control, not mine.
It reminded me of the poem "Still I rise" by Maya Angelou. Of the emotion underneath her words- the rebelliousness, the confidence and faith to move forward, and the inability to tamp down the human spirit in any and all circumstances.
Those attributes are what got many generations before us through worse times than this, and it will get us through as well.
It's a long, incredible poem- you should read it, but today, here, I will put down only a few lines
"Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wonderously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
"She wasn't a sunny day type woman.
Often she would brave a thunderstorm to find me
and sit next to me and hold my hand in the rain.
She wasn't just a flame.
She was a bonfire to the soul.
This painting is the second in my "St. Louis women" series, something near and dear to my heart.
This portrait is of my beautiful friend and neighbor, Beth Vacarro, who happens to also be the mother of my son's lifelong best friend.
Beth is one of those rare gifts to the world, a mental health therapist. She daily goes into her office and willingly takes on the problems, complexities, and hardships of others, to help them find their path in this world, or to make it easier, or to help them see themselves in a new way so that they can thrive. She lends an ear and her heart to let people know they are not alone in this world. Always a blessing and help to others, but in this strange time especially, I think of the vital ways she helps our corner of the world navigate their way through anxiety, depression, financial hardships, sickness and loss.
Her life's work is bringing beauty to other's lives by entering their darkness and confusion to work out a map into light and life. The world is so fortunate to have her.
I would be remiss to not mention the impact she has had on my life personally. I know first hand what kind of courageous kindness and generosity of heart Beth has. She has come to my side at the darkest times, and like a lamp someone brought into the room, stayed present with me in my tears and pain, until her warmth overtook the coldness and fear.
And although one would think this sort of individual would be a serious or solemn kind of person, Beth is full of light and life, witty, and a friend to all who know and love her.
Thank you, Beth, for being a friend to me and a light in our community.
Yesterday I took a long walk just to regain some balance in mind and body. I have had trouble focusing my energy and my dogs seemed just as restless as I did, so we took off and found an out of the way, wild area with a thick bank of trees and birds, that I had never seen before. Cardinals were swooping in and out of the branches of shrubs just beginning to show their spring blossoms, and a cobalt sky with complete silence all around us seemed like balm for the soul.
As I looked down to see how my dogs were faring, I noticed what looked like a four leaf clover patch and thought I would find one to take home. We could all use a little luck right now! But looking closer, I found the leaves were too large for clover, but the little patch looked so familiar..... I stepped on it and heard the familiar "crunch" of alfalfa under my shoe.
So let me back up. I grew up behind a huge matrix of fields in Kansas where we spend our childhood days filling jars up with lady bugs, and playing hide and seek and Marco Polo in the shoulder high wheat. Some days we would walk out to the center of the field to find the old, graceful Cottonwood tree with branches that spread out for us to climb up with our metal lunch boxes and eat, sometimes sitting in the tree reading a book until dinner. It was freedom, and making our own fun out of days that stretched out like those Kansas fields.
We often took walks out in the field behind our house, westward, heading out to a line of cedar trees on the horizon. It was on these walks that we would crunch through the alfalfa. We would make a game out of it to see who could make the most noise as we walked. If you have ever smelled the scent of alfalfa, it has a sweet, spicy, pungent odor, that smells like puffy, flat-bottomed clouds in a blue, Kansas sky.
So I picked a handful and crushed the leaves in my fist, wondering if I would recognize the scent of my childhood . It hit me like a wave - a visceral sensation of images, feelings, and home- circa 1978- that came rushing back in an instant as I stood there with my dogs, breathing in a handful of alfalfa, 40-some years later.
I pocketed it and made my husband and daughter smell what I told them was a fistful of my childhood.
So today, an ode to alfalfa and our unique memories that lay in hearts, silent until awoken and presented as a gift to our spirit. May each of us use this time to remember who we are, where we come from, and what our hearts truly love, and in doing that, become a better version of ourselves. A more grounded, kinder, forgiving people, who find the confidence and hope to look forward to a better world tomorrow.
For Auld Lang Syne- for the old times.
It's the first day of a new decade today, and tomorrow, I will begin my 49th trip around the sun. This has been a year of reflection growth, and renewed understanding of my own, and my fellow traveler's, plights. I feel more creative and connected to myself and others in spite of what can be challenging or uncertain circumstances at times.
My painting at the moment seems to be vacillating between restraint and wildness, letting loose, then tightening things up. Subtlety and power. Although those may seem contradictory, power can indeed stem from subtlety and restraint. Some of the most beautiful and powerful things in the world are not the ones shouting out for attention, but are found in the quiet corners of life each day. Making time for stillness, reflection and friendships. Learning to be fully present and not reactionary can transform a moment in time you never get back. That is powerful and beautiful stuff.
As I grow older, I learn that each circumstance that comes my way -good or bad- also comes with a lesson to learn. And inside that lesson God gives a nugget of wisdom to help us become who we were created to be. A better version; one that is lighter, loving, more resilient, and forgiving, of ourselves and those around us.
The challenge, then, is to become receptive to the wisdom available to us. To resist the urge to contract and close up in the face of difficulty, instead opening up to allow God's beauty, grace and love to consume us. In every situation, the good, the bad and the ugly, there is a constant, and that constant is love. And in love, there is healing, truth and a light to guide our way.
This is a strange and mysterious journey we are all on. Some of it breathtakingly beautiful and some of it gut wrenchingly difficult. But our burdens are eased and we are fortified to keep going through it all by friends and family and those whose paths we cross.
So to begin the year, we say goodbye to the old and look forward to the new year and new self emerging just in the rightness of time- together.
And some age old wisdom seems appropriate-
" And there's a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o'thine!
And we'll take a right good-will draught
for auld lang syne"
**To browse my art gallery click- https://www.ggwatercolors.com/art-gallery.html
Out of every 100 paintings I do, I think I am truly happy with maybe two. And by that, I mean I look at it and see that what was inside of me when I was painting, manifested itself through pigment and water onto the paper. It's a good feeling when that serendipity happens, and I would like it to show up more than two percent of the time! This painting is a culmination of studies of clotheslines that I've done over the years .
Why clotheslines? I love everything about them visually because they encompass all that I want to experiment with in watercolor.: Light, shadow, luminosity, shape, form, and preserving the white of the paper. My challenge has been to paint the clothesline and fabrics, with all of their folds, textures, and shadow detail, while simultaneously maintaining the freedom and playfulness of the abstract. When it comes down to it, that's what I strive to do in all of my paintings, enabling me to get to the essence and power of the subject.
The power in this painting is that it resonates emotionally with so many people on various levels. As soon as I posted it, people began talking about their memories of being with mom or grandma out in the backyard hanging laundry on the line, or the fresh smell of cotton sheets after being dried in the sun all day. An old clothesline blowing in the wind seems to bring back universal childhood memories of a slower time when bright summer days stretched out like long shadows into evening.
This is the first painting in a series dealing with preserving whites and light, maintaining luminosity and playing loosely. I'm hoping to push past some tightness and deal with the painting as a whole, living entity. Learning as I go.